by Katelynn Fleming
September 16, 2017 was World Ozone Day, and also marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, one of the most important and successful environmental protection laws in existence. You may be most familiar with its restrictions on aerosol products such as hair spray, bug spray and some cleaning products like Lysol spray. While these products are very popular, they and many other modern conveniences are detrimental to the health of the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which shields the Earth from UV radiation.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, the Montreal Protocol was formed by the U.N. in 1987 as a groundbreaking treaty signed by 197 countries; it was the first treaty to gain universal ratification in the U.N. It began by limiting the production of ODSs, or ozone-depleting substances. After its ratification, new scientific data showed that the depletion of the ozone layer was worse than expected, spurring amendments to the treaty that included both an increase in the breadth of controlled chemicals and a mechanism that allows developing countries to comply despite the financial barriers. Today, all the original ODSs have been successfully phased out. The U.N. Environmental Programme website shows a list of instances in which the treaty has been amended over the past 30 years to include other dangerous chemicals and to tighten restrictions on each one, culminating in an initiative of global cooperation almost unparalleled in scope and success. The EPA states that today, the focus of restrictions is on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent greenhouse gasses that have a far stronger impact on climate change than CO2. They are projected to increase “nearly twentyfold” in the near future, according to the EPA website, and their increase may “offset much of the climate benefit achieved by phasing out ODS.”
To do your part to keep the ozone layer safe, know that HFC’s predicted increase is mostly due to the increased use of refrigeration and air conditioning, so try to minimize your use of those products. A good rule of thumb is to use products with the least synthetic chemicals involved in their production and function, but for a more detailed list of the specific chemicals targeted by the Montreal Protocol, you can go to the EPA’s page on Ozone Layer Protection.
Today as a result of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is on the mend, and is expected to be fully healed by the mid-2000s, according to the EPA. The treaty also stands as a testament to the power of unified action to protect our one and only home: planet Earth.